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WHAT IS QUEERBAIT? All the answers

 

What’s queerbait? Queerbait is the added homoerotic tension between two characters to attract more liberal and queer audiences without the intention of making them an official couple in canon. It’s quite a recent phenomenon that came with the growing acceptance of the portrayal of queer characters on screen. It has a negative connotation for several reasons we are going to analyse later. 

 

How did we get to queerbaiting?

It started with it’s older, arguably less insidious, sibling: queer coding. There was a time in Hollywood were movies showed, for better or for worse, queer characters but that didn’t last long since in 1934 the Motion Picture Production Code or mostly known as the Hayes code came to be. This code stated what was acceptable to show in motion pictures to prevent “lowering the moral standards of those who see it” and such other nonsense. These rules included that films couldn’t show characters breaking or mocking the law, white characters couldn’t engage in sexual relationships with black characters, sex before marriage was to be shown as something evil and you guess it, depicting queer characters in an explicit way was completely banned. This is the context where queer codding started. This term is similar to queerbaiting but not quite the same. Queer coding happens when a character has stereotypical queer traits that can be picked up by the audience. An example can be a male character with female characteristics or a female character with traditionally male attributes such as  HIM  from The Powerpuff Girls or Spinelli in Recess. This can be done negatively, while the Hays code was into effect most of the queer coded characters were villains to engrave in the audience’s mind that queer people were inherently evil and shouldn’t be trusted. We can find the start of the bury your gays trope here since queer coded characters often met with a tragic end but there is a positive side of queer coding. This was the only way to show queer characters on the scene and for a long time and was going to be the only representation queer people were going to have in media. This way queer people didn’t get erased completely from the screens. The Hays code was lifted in 1968 but the stereotypes surrounding queer people stayed as well as the notion that you couldn’t possibly expose a broad audience to queer characters, think of the children! So even though years and years had passed since the Motion Picture Production Code was enforced a part of the mentality behind it survived to our days and this is where we meet with our good old friend queerbaiting. 

Queerbaiting nowadays 

We can’t deny that society as a whole has been taking steps towards acceptance and inclusion of queer people and that’s probably why queerbaiting is so frustrating. Nowadays nothing is stopping studios to show queer main characters, there’s no Hays code and people seem to be getting more accepting, so what’s the problem? Money! Money is the problem. We see over and over how queerbaiting is used as a marketing strategy and it’s a very effective one at that.  How does it work? Shows of films show characters that can be read as queer to the audience but it’s not explicit enough to alienate homophobic viewers. Producers know that they will keep viewers who are starved for some representation because they hope they will come through with the homoerotic tension the show had been building up even though it never happens. So studios can show gay relationships but they simply chose not to in order to keep as much audience as possible hooked on their product.

 

Shows and films had been queerbaiting us in very different ways, in an explicit manner when the characters in surrounding the main characters think they could be in a relationship because the way they act around each other but it all plays out as a joke because the thought that the main characters could be in a homosexual relationship is hilariously absurd. Am I right? The main example I can think of is Sherlock. Come on, I have seen it, you have seen it.  Johnlock (Sherlock/Watson) had been teased at during the show but it had always been treated as a joke in canon and by the showrunners. We will talk about that trainwreck in another post, don’t worry.

The most subtle way of queerbaiting is the most difficult to pinpoint because it can be excused as an artistic choice. This happens when the scrip, the shoots and even the background music point towards a romantic interaction between the characters. Ambiguous lines keep us hoping that this subtext will eventually become canon but we all know how it ends. How can you know if this is happening or if you are making it all up in your mind? Imagine the same characters as a cis-woman and a cis-male, would they eventually get together in the same context? If the answer is yes, congratulations! You have been queerbaited. In this category, I would point at Supernatural as a clear example. Castiel and Dean would have become a couple if either of them were a cis-woman and we all know it. Check our infamous list of… best? worse? queerbaiters in history of fandom! Maybe you can help us add a few more offenders. 

 

In my opinion, most shows operate under the premise that their audience is composed mostly of cis-men, I would add that there is a component of wishful thinking in that, so studios wouldn’t risk ratings by showing a homosexual relationship to an audience that stereotypically wouldn’t receive that well. At the end of the day the most engaged audience is often composed of minorities, these are the type of audience that is not only a consumer but a producer of content for the show or film they love. So studios eventually bite the bullet and feed us with queerbait to keep our interest but at the same time, they keep trying to conform to a broad audience that is not that invested in their product.

 

What other examples of queerbaiting have you witnessed? Let’s get angry together.

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Hamlet is our Editor-In-Chief and co-founder of The Fanfic Collective. She has a degree in Communication Studies. Hamlet is currently an English teacher and part-time dancer. She landed on the world of fanfiction after reading a Jonas Brothers fic when she was 12. Her main fandoms are Sherlock, The MCU, Good Omens and Buzzfeed Unsolved. You can catch her on AO3 as Igraine_Smiley.

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